Before the course
Planning is key to successful group projects, and the planning you do before the course is a vital part of ensuring the project runs well.
Key success factors
Below is a list of factors that help group assignments run smoothly, created from responses by lecturers at Victoria University of Wellington and elsewhere; note that student feedback on what works well has also been taken into account. To enable students to get the most out of group projects (and even enjoy them), lecturers should:
- Ensure that the group project assignment question requires a group to do the assignment! Avoid the scenario where the stapler represents the group element. If your goal is to develop cross-cultural and international perspectives, set a question which requires ethnic diversity in the group. Try to provide an assignment where each group member plays a key role in the product/outcome.
- Include a real world aspect, through research, presentation, or both, to get students more engaged and to push them to perform better.
- Ensure that group projects are worth enough marks for students to devote sufficient time.
- Include an element of individual accountability. This might be in the form of a reflection on learning and/or group dynamics and it could involve frameworks from course content. Such an exercise will reinforce the learning of group skills. Again, remember to allocate sufficient marks to ensure students take it seriously. Another way of ensuring individual accountability is to reward knowledge of the group project topic in the exam.
- Set clear expectations and incentives at the start. You might provide some academic content relating to group skills.
- Teach students how to participate in groups in the same way that you would teach students how to write an essay. Maybe bring in good students from previous years to share tips on effective group work.
- Consider your method of group selection carefully, preferably allowing students to self-select with some guidance (see ‘selecting groups’).
- Set up interim check-ins to ensure groups are on track, or do this in tutorials.
- Have a clear process for students to follow in dealing with any issues (see ‘creating group rules’). Groups should hand a copy of their rules to you so you can help enforce them if breakdowns occur.
- Encourage students to get to know each other through plenty of interactive activities in class and tutorials (see ‘interaction’). Groups need time to build up trust and cohesion.
- Use tutorials to practice group skills (see 'advice for tutorials').
- Use online tools to help students work together when physical and synchronous meeting is not possible. Wikis and blogs on Blackboard provide a way for group decisions, dynamics, and contributions to be visible to teaching staff.
- Encourage students to practise participating in groups by participating in course-related study groups, PASS, Māori and Pasifika support groups.
Checklist of elements to consider when designing group work
Group work should require more than a stapler. Good group assignments require real collaboration to get the group working together.
One of the biggest challenges in designing a group assignment is ensuring the task is clear and will elicit the desired behaviours. Here are 13 things to consider while preparing your group assignment.
- How does my assignment elicit real group interaction?
- Is there an element of individual accountability?
- How am I going to explain and justify the group assignment to the students? What will motivate them?
- Does the grade allocated to the project appropriately reflect the amount of expected student work?
- Do students have a clear and sound process to follow if their group members aren’t contributing?
- Is it possible to add a real-world element to this project?
- What support am I going to offer students (a framework, class time, conflict resolution, etc.)?
- Will I include an online component or training for students in the use of online tools?
- Who will peer review my framework and assignment question?
- Do I have the right balance between product and process in the instructions and marking scheme (the process of working together might be one of the learning objectives)?
- Will communication skills be directly assessed, and if so, will I make allowances for international students? How will I communicate these matters to students?
- How much class and tutorial time will I allocate to work on projects?
- How will I ensure that students are comfortable working together before the group project starts?
Course outline insert
This is a group assignment insert for course outlines that is especially designed to suit Business School processes. You may need to make adjustments to suit your particular course and learning objectives; however, it should provide a good base.
There is a group project in this course. The main learning objectives are to learn to:
- work well with a diverse group of people
- manage conflicts in a team
- utilise and complement individual group members’ strengths to produce a high-quality product.
Learning how to work in diverse teams is very relevant to the workforce, and this group project will help you gain skills that employers seek. Students are expected to work in diverse groups to enhance their learning experience. Students who are confident in the subject can expect to gain a deeper understanding through explaining concepts to their group, some of which may be relevant to the exam. 2
Please go to the XXX Faculty website's 'Group work' resource for advice on group skills.3 In particular, look at the student resources on time management, setting meeting agendas, and project timelines for ideas on group skills.
To ensure that each group member contributes to the project, group members’ individual marks may be adapted according to the contribution they have made.4
If there are issues within your groups, the lecturer will be available to assist. However, you are asked to make a reasonable attempt to resolve the issue before you approach the lecturer.
Students are expected to maintain trust and effective working relationships with team members. Students may also be required to leave the group and to submit a complete assignment on their own, or may be allocated a mark that differs from other group members to match their level of contribution. Lecturers may take the views of other team members into account when making this decision.
1 Other learning objectives should be added that fit the course content.
2 This can be adjusted to reflect the aspect of individual accountability that the lecturer has included. For example ‘Students who contribute more to the group project will be recognised and their grade will reflect this’ or ‘Students who contribute a lot to the group project will find that this helps them gain a high mark in the related individual assignment.’
3 Provide link to group work resources.
4 This could be changed to ‘each student will be required to submit a form stating whether or not they think that each of their group members has contributed fairly’ or the relevant system that the lecturer has put in place to deter freeloading.